Cliff-hanger for 1.3 million Americans

In a few weeks, 1.3 million Americans will lose the unemployment benefits they have relied on to buy groceries and keep a roof over their heads. By the end of the first quarter, an additional 850,000 Americans will have lost their benefits. We should not be revoking needed economic assistance from job seekers while millions of Americans are fighting to get back to work and struggling to pay their bills.

This sudden change in policy affects the worst off in this economy—the long-term unemployed. Studies show that significant time out of the labor force makes it harder for an individual to find a job. When they do find one, it is often a lower-paying position or a step back in their career. Without the crucial lifeline that unemployment insurance provides, we leave millions of Americans without income and risk pushing them out of the job market entirely.

This is just one example of a Republican assault on social insurance programs. Their refusal to expand Medicaid, support for the reduction in SNAP benefits, and insistence on sequestration has resulted in benefit reductions for working families. As Republicans have rolled back the safety net, Americans have lost access to housing, food, education, and child care. The expiration of long-term unemployment benefits compounds an already difficult situation for many Americans.

Last year, unemployment insurance kept 2.5 million Americans and .6 million children out of poverty. If long-term jobless benefits are allowed to expire, next year there will be nothing to protect these families from long spells of unemployment. Food stamps, Medicaid benefits, and federal child care subsidies are not generous enough to make up for the loss of a reliable unemployment benefit.

In New York City, this is a particularly pressing problem. My city has an unemployment rate of nearly 9 percent, over 1 percent greater than the national average. Already, SNAP cuts have resulted in the loss 76 million meals per year for New York City residents. Cutting New Yorkers off from unemployment insurance will not put people back to work. This expiration of benefits will make the unemployed worse off and job searches harder.

My colleagues on the other side of the aisle say they are concerned about the average person. But actions speak louder than words, and their actions tell us they are not concerned with the difficulties Americans face. I hope that the Americans they are ignoring are playing close attention to what is happening in Congress today.

Prepared remarks by US Rep. Velázquez (D-NY) at a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing on “Expiring employment Insurance Benefits” and the effects the proposed cuts to the program will have on working families.

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